Acadia – Acadie in French – has at different times included all or part of Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The bulk of today’s Acadians are the descendants of just forty French peasant families who arrived at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, in 1636; slowly spreading along the Annapolis Valley, they lived a semi-autonomous existence in which trading with their English-speaking neighbours was more important than grand notions of loyalty to the French Empire. Consequently, when the British secured control of Port Royal under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Acadians made no protest.
In 1755, at the start of the Seven Years’ War, British government officials attempted to make the Acadians swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown. They refused, so Governor Charles Lawrence decided – without consulting London – to deport them en masse to other colonies (the “Grand Dérangement” in French). The process of uprooting and removing a community of around thirteen thousand was achieved with remarkable ruthlessness.
By the end of the year over half the Acadians had arrived on the American East Coast, where they faced a cold reception – the Virginians even rerouted their allocation to England. Most of the rest spread out along the North Atlantic seaboard, establishing communities along New Brunswick’s Miramichi Valley, on Prince Edward Island and in St-Pierre et Miquelon. Some went to Louisiana – these were the ancestors of the Cajuns, whose name is a corruption of “Acadian”. Starting in 1763, Acadians were allowed to return to the Bay of Fundy region (provided they took the oath), but many farms had been given to British and New England colonists and they were forced to settle the less hospitable lands of the Acadian Shore, further west. Between 1860 and 1920, what’s known as the Acadian Renaissance helped revive Acadian traditions and culture, encouraged, in part, by the global success of Longfellow’s poem Evangeline.
Today, the Acadian communities of the Maritime Provinces have largely resisted the pressures of assimilation and have consolidated their cultural independence, most notably in New Brunswick, where the Université de Moncton has become their academic and cultural centre.